Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics


Posted by shannonclark on September 4, 2002

On styles of writing

or how my tastes shift from time to time

Last night I spent an enjoyable couple of hours relaxing with a good book. While reading it (one of the Count Saint Germain novels of Chelsea Yarboro), I was struck by how my reaction to different writing styles is inconsistant, a style that I may not like in one book, becomes interesting and engrosing in a different book.

Often I say that I don’t like “modern fiction”, but that is not entirely true, I read short stories in the New Yorker, Granta, and Esquire and often enjoy them quite a bit. And I do enjoy some “modern” literary authors (Salmon Rushdie is one that leaps to mind).

But others, I can never seem to finish – books like “A Confederacy of Dunces” or “Gravity’s Rainbow” which I would think I might enjoy, I seem to struggle just trying to get started and usually just put them down in favor of something I do enjoy reading.

Earlier this week I complained about China Mountain Zhang being inconclusive, about the fact that various plot points are left unclear, and that it seemingly drifted quite a bit.

I enjoyed it, but had some issues with it as well.

So, now I am reading this book by Chelsea Yarboro, and I am also enjoying it, but it is not a flawless book, but somehow my reaction is different – it does any number of slightly challenging things, characters change names within the book, event occur but you do not always witness the conclusion of the action as a read, rather you read about the conclusion of the action in letters and other documents with the document of the story, and many of those documents are long winded and lengthy with just small notes that seem relavent to the ongoing plot of the novel.

On the otherhand, it is a richly detailed imagined past, which I do enjoy – though the historian in me is alternating between enjoying the detail, and questioning that very same detail (occupational hazard I guess).

But my varied reaction is what interests me, is it simply a difference in quality of writing? (or of plot?), or is there something more going on. In part, it is possible that because I am not yet finished with the new book I am willing to grant it certain unfinished plots because I expect them to be clarified in the later chapters – if they are not, perhaps then I will be disappointed. But I do think that there is something more going on as well.

Conversations that I had months ago with some writer friends of mine pointed out that in some part the goal of “modern literary writing” is to explore characters and do it in as sparse a manner as possible – or at least at times that seems to be the goal – to write without exposition and explanation, but to somehow still be clear and detailed – quite a challenge.


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